TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION

 

 

Inconsistent Adherence to Quality Requirements Continues to Affect the Accuracy of Some Tax Returns Prepared at Volunteer Sites

 

 

 

September 16, 2013

 

Reference Number:  2013-40-110

 

 

This report has cleared the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration disclosure review process and information determined to be restricted from public release has been redacted from this document.

 

 

Redaction Legend:

1 = Tax Return/Return Information

 

 

Phone Number  /  202-622-6500

E-mail Address /  TIGTACommunications@tigta.treas.gov

Website           /  http://www.treasury.gov/tigta

 

 

HIGHLIGHTS

INCONSISTENT ADHERENCE TO QUALITY REQUIREMENTS CONTINUES TO AFFECT THE ACCURACY OF SOME TAX RETURNS PREPARED AT VOLUNTEER SITES

Highlights

Final Report issued on September 16, 2013

Highlights of Reference Number:  2013-40-110 to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner for the Wage and Investment Division.

IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS

The Volunteer Program provides no-cost Federal tax return preparation and electronic filing to underserved segments of the population of individual taxpayers, including low- to moderate-income, elderly, disabled, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers.  However, ensuring that tax returns are accurately prepared remains a challenge for the Volunteer Program.  Problems with the accuracy of some of the tax returns affect the taxes owed and refunds received by these taxpayers.

WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT

This was a follow-up audit to our prior reviews to determine whether taxpayers visiting IRS Volunteer Program sites receive quality service, including accurately prepared tax returns.

WHAT TIGTA FOUND

The IRS continues to emphasize to volunteers the necessity of reviewing the intake/interview sheets with taxpayers during tax return preparation.  In addition, training and resource materials were adjusted to clarify and underscore the due-diligence obligations of volunteers.  However, there were still accuracy problems with some of the tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors making anonymous visits to Volunteer Program sites.

Of the 39 tax returns prepared for auditors during the 2013 Filing Season, 20 (51 percent) were prepared correctly and 19 (49 percent) were prepared incorrectly.  This is a two-percentage-point increase over the 49 percent accuracy rate for the same number of returns in the 2012 Filing Season.

The 19 incorrect tax returns resulted from incorrect application of the tax law, insufficient requests for information during the intake/ interview process, or lack of adherence to quality review requirements.

The IRS continues to refine its anonymous shopping process to evaluate the accuracy of tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites.  This process reported a 49 percent accuracy rate for the 43 tax returns prepared, which compares with the 51 percent accuracy rate TIGTA found.  The IRS’s anonymous shopping also found the same causes that TIGTA reported for the inaccurately prepared tax returns.

WHAT TIGTA RECOMMENDED

TIGTA recommended that the IRS ensure that volunteer return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators annually complete intake/interview and quality review training.  In response to this report, the IRS agreed to the recommendation and plans to require that all volunteer instructors, return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators complete intake/interview and quality review training annually.

 

September 16, 2013

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

FROM:                       Michael E. McKenney /s/ Michael E. McKenney

                                  Acting Deputy Inspector General for Audit

 

SUBJECT:                  Final Audit Report – Inconsistent Adherence to Quality Requirements Continues to Affect the Accuracy of Some Tax Returns Prepared at Volunteer Sites (Audit # 201340001)

 

This report presents the results of our review to determine whether taxpayers visiting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Volunteer Program sites receive quality service, including accurately prepared tax returns.  This was a follow-up audit to prior Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reviews and is part of our Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Audit Plan.  This audit addresses the major management challenge of Providing Quality Taxpayer Service Operations.

Management’s complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix X.

Copies of this report are also being sent to the IRS managers affected by the report recommendation.  Please contact me if you have questions or Russell P. Martin, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Returns Processing and Account Services).

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Background

Results of Review

Interview and Quality Review Procedures Are Often Not Followed, Which Affects the Accuracy of Tax Returns

Recommendation 1:

Appendices

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV – Cities and States Visited to Have Tax Returns Prepared

Appendix V – Accuracy Rate by Tax Topic

Appendix VI – Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet

Appendix VII – Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement – VITA/TCE Programs

Appendix VIII – General Characteristics of Tax Returns Prepared by the Volunteer Program During Calendar Year 2013

Appendix IX – Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Audit Reports on the Volunteer Tax Return Preparation Program

Appendix X – Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

 

Abbreviations

 

IRA

Individual Retirement Arrangement

IRS

Internal Revenue Service

SPEC

Stakeholder Partnerships, Education, and Communication

TCE

Tax Counseling for the Elderly

TIGTA

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

VITA

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

 

 

Background

 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Volunteer Program plays an important role in facilitating participation in the tax system.  It provides no-cost Federal tax return preparation and electronic filing to underserved segments of individual taxpayers, including low- to moderate-income, elderly, disabled, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers.  It includes sites operated in partnership with the military and with various community-based organizations.  The Volunteer Program is comprised of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, including the VITA Grant Program, and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program.

Volunteers play an increasingly important role in facilitating participation in the tax system.

The VITA Program was originated in 1969 due to enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1969 and an increased emphasis on taxpayer education programs.[1]  The IRS has placed continual emphasis on expanding the VITA Program through increased recruitment of various religious, social and nonprofit, corporate, financial, educational, and government organizations; involvement of the military on a national level; and expansion of assistance provided to the limited-English-proficient community.

The TCE Program began with the Revenue Act of 1978, which authorized the IRS to enter into agreements with private or nongovernmental public nonprofit agencies and organizations to provide training and technical assistance to volunteers who provide free tax counseling and assistance to elderly individuals in the preparation of their Federal income tax returns.[2]  The law authorizes an appropriation of special funds, in the form of grants, to provide tax assistance to persons age 60 and older.  The IRS receives the funds as a line item in the budget appropriation.  The total funds are distributed to the sponsors for their expenses.[3]

Since Fiscal Year 2009,[4] the IRS has granted funds for the VITA Grant Program.  For the 2013 Filing Season,[5] 206 organizations were awarded $12.1 million in matching grants.  The grants are to be used to increase the capacity to file tax returns electronically and enhance training of volunteers at VITA sites.

For the 2013 Filing Season, there were a total of 13,081 Volunteer Program sites.  As of April 17, 2013, volunteers prepared almost 1.5 million individual income tax returns at VITA and Military VITA sites and more than 1.4 million at TCE/AARP sites.  Figure 1 provides a breakdown of the Volunteer Program and the percentage of tax returns prepared at the different types of program sites during the 2013 Filing Season.

Figure 1:  Percentage of Tax Returns Prepared at the
Volunteer Program Sites During the 2013 Filing Season

Figure 1 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 1, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

Source:  Individual Return Transaction File.[6]

The IRS Stakeholder Partnerships, Education, and Communication (SPEC) function is responsible for providing oversight for the Volunteer Program, which includes determining policies and procedures, developing products and training material, and monitoring and managing Volunteer Program activity.  The SPEC function’s concept of operations includes looking for opportunities to assist third parties with helping taxpayers understand and meet their tax obligations by promoting collaboration among tax practitioners, tax preparers, and community partners to support the Volunteer Program.

Tax scenarios used by auditors reflected tax topics volunteers were trained to handle for taxpayers seeking assistance from the Volunteer Program

Three scenarios were designed for Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) auditors to use as they posed as taxpayers having tax returns prepared by volunteers (referred to as shopping).  These scenarios were developed to use characteristics of taxpayers who visit Volunteer Program sites to have a tax return prepared.  The scenarios included only tax topics for which the volunteers had been trained.  In addition, although most tax returns prepared by volunteers are prepared for taxpayers who file with no dependents, auditors used two scenarios that included tax topics dealing with dependents and related tax credits.  These two scenarios included tax topics dealing with dependents and related tax credits to assess the volunteers’ use of the tools the SPEC function created to ensure that accurate tax returns are prepared. 

Analysis of tax returns prepared in the 2013 Filing Season as of April 17, 2013, identified that dependent‑related credits accounted for $1.7 billion (43 percent) of the $3.9 billion in tax refunds issued to the 2.9 million taxpayers who used Volunteer Program tax preparation assistance.  These credits—the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Additional Child Tax Credit—are available to taxpayers who have dependents.  Figure 2 shows the amount of refunds or balances due and credits claimed by taxpayers on Tax Year 2012 returns prepared by the Volunteer Program.

Figure 2:  Refunds or Balances Due and Credits Claimed
Generated From Tax Returns Filed as of April 17, 2013,
Prepared by the Volunteer Program [7]

Refund Due/
Balance Due

Dollar
Totals

Tax Return Volume

Percentage of Tax Return Volume

Refunds Due

$3,930,063,154

2,430,493

83.7%

Balances Due

$137,042,003

192,772

6.6%

Breakeven

$0

280,560

9.7%

Credits Claimed

Dollar Totals

Tax Return Volume

Earned Income Tax Credit

$1,106,534,596

698,383

Additional Child Tax Credit

$358,946,402

308,676

Child Tax Credit

$224,420,861

225,776

Total

$1,689,901,859

 

Source:  Analysis of Tax Year 2012 tax returns filed as of April 17, 2013.

The following are the three scenarios used by auditors during the 2013 Filing Season:

Scenario 1 –   The taxpayer was single, had never been married, and lived with his or her sibling.  The taxpayer had one child or grandchild, age eight, who lived with the taxpayer in the home during the summer, about three months a year.  The child lived with the mother/father during the school year, about nine months of the year.  During Tax Year 2012, the taxpayer worked at a school as a teacher’s aide; at a home improvement store (was laid off); and at a local retail store.  Total income reported on the 2012 Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, was $17,034.  The taxpayer received a 2012 1099-INT, Interest Income Statement, totaling $7.35.  The taxpayer spent $350 for school supplies.  The taxpayer won $1,900 playing the slot machines at a casino over the 4th of July holiday (won on July 5); $285 in Federal income tax was withheld from the winnings.

An accurately prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer receiving a refund of $311.  The tax return preparer would have correctly determined that the taxpayer’s filing status was Single.  The taxpayer did not provide more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for a qualifying child, and the taxpayer could not claim the child as a dependent for Child Tax Credit purposes.  The Earned Income Tax Credit would not be available to the taxpayer because the child did not live with the taxpayer for more than half of the year and the earned income exceeded the maximum allowable amount for a single taxpayer with no qualifying dependents.

Scenario 2 –   The taxpayer was divorced and lived with his or her nine-year-old child or grandchild.  The taxpayer had wages reported on 2012 Forms W-2 totaling $29,232.  The taxpayer was paid biweekly and contributed $1,263 to a 401(k) retirement plan.  The taxpayer received a 2012 Form 1099-INT totaling $4.13, received $300 a month for child support, and had dependent care expenses totaling $1,370. 

An accurately prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer receiving a refund of $2,761.  The tax return preparer would have correctly determined that the taxpayer’s filing status was Head of Household and the dependency exemption could be claimed.  In addition, the taxpayer qualified for an Earned Income Tax Credit of $1,230, a Child Tax Credit of $823, an Additional Child Tax Credit of $177, a Child and Dependent Care Credit of $370, and a Retirement Savings Contributions Credit of $126.

Scenario 3 –   The taxpayer was single with no dependents and shared an apartment with a friend.  The taxpayer was employed at a home improvement center and had wages reported on the 2012 Form W-2 in the amount of $18,435.  The taxpayer was also self-employed and earned a total of $17,800 and had expenses totaling $4,857. 

A correctly prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer owing $3,320.  The preparer would have correctly determined that the taxpayer’s filing status was Single.

Prior TIGTA reviews identified concerns with the accuracy of tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites

We have continually reported that Volunteer Program sites are inaccurately preparing tax returns.  Inaccurate tax returns result from volunteers not obtaining sufficient information from the auditors to apply the tax law correctly and volunteers not always following intake/interview and quality review guidelines.[8]  We have recommended that the IRS continue to emphasize the necessity of reviewing Form 13614-C, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet,[9] with taxpayers during tax return preparation and establish due diligence guidelines for volunteers. 

This review was performed at the SPEC function in the Wage and Investment Division in Atlanta, Georgia, during the period January through June 2013.  This audit included an assessment of tax returns prepared at VITA sites and TCE/AARP sites.  From February through April 2013, TIGTA auditors performed 39 anonymous visits and had 39 tax returns prepared at 39 judgmentally selected Volunteer Program sites located in 10 States.[10]  Three sites were selected in five States, six sites were selected in three States, four sites were selected in one State, and two sites were selected in one State.  Appendix IV provides a list of the 10 States and the specific cities where the sites were located.

We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.  Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.  We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.  Detailed information on our audit objective, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I.  Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.

 

 

Results of Review

 

Interview and Quality Review Procedures Are Often Not Followed, Which Affects the Accuracy of Tax Returns

The IRS continues to emphasize to volunteers the necessity of reviewing Form 13614-C with taxpayers during tax return preparation.  In addition, training and resource materials were clarified to underscore the due diligence obligations of volunteers.  However, the accuracy rate continues to be low for tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors making anonymous visits to VITA sites.  Of the 39 tax returns prepared for auditors during the 2013 Filing Season, 20 (51 percent) were prepared correctly and 19 (49 percent) were prepared incorrectly.  This is a two percentage point increase over the 49 percent accuracy rate in the 2012 Filing Season.  Our results cannot be used to project to the population of tax returns prepared at VITA sites because the tax returns we had prepared were included as part of a judgmental sample.  A judgmental sample is a nonstatistical sample, the results of which cannot be used to project to the population.

If the 19 incorrect tax returns had been filed, 11 taxpayers would not have been refunded a total of $3,589 to which they were entitled, five taxpayers would have owed a total of $1,088 in tax and/or penalties more than they should have owed, two taxpayers would have received a refund of $260 more than the amount to which they were entitled, and one taxpayer would have owed $956 less than he or she should have owed.  Figure 3 shows the accuracy rates of tax returns prepared for auditors during Filing Seasons 2004 through 2013.

Figure 3:  Tax Return Accuracy Rates for the 20042013 Filing Seasons

Figure 3 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 3, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

Source:  Tax returns prepared for our auditors by volunteers during the 20042013 Filing Seasons.

The 19 incorrect 2013 Filing Season tax returns were incorrectly prepared because volunteers did not apply the tax law correctly, obtain sufficient information from the auditors during the intake/interview process, or follow quality review requirements when preparing tax returns.  Lastly, when using Scenario 3, auditors expected the volunteers to educate the auditor on the estimated tax penalty because the scenario resulted in tax being owed.  Volunteer Program guidelines instruct volunteers not to calculate or impose the penalty.  However, the volunteer should explain that the penalty would not be added to the tax return by the volunteer, but that the IRS would calculate the penalty and could send a subsequent bill.  Only one volunteer educated the shopper about the estimated tax penalty.  Figure 4 shows the accuracy rate by scenario.

Figure 4:  Tax Return Accuracy Rates
for the 2013 Filing Season by Scenario

Tax Scenario Used

Number of Tax Returns Prepared Using the Scenario

Accuracy
Rate

Scenario 1

13

31%

Scenario 2

13

69%

Scenario 3

13

54%

Total Accuracy

39

51%

Source:  Tax returns prepared for auditors during the 2013 Filing Season.

Four tax topics contributed to most of the errors

Of the 16 tax topics used in the three scenarios, the following four tax topics contributed to the most errors and caused a significant decrease in the overall accuracy rate.  See Appendix V for the accuracy rates of all tax topics.

·       The Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) deduction:  46 percent accuracy rate.  Volunteers did not include this deduction on the inaccurately prepared tax returns because they did not completely review the Form 13614-C.  Taxpayers can reduce taxable income by contributing money to a traditional IRA.  Contributions to IRAs can be made as late as the first due date of a tax return and can be considered retroactive to the previous tax year.  Contributions up to certain limits can be subtracted from adjusted gross income. 

·       The Educator Expense deduction:  54 percent accuracy rate. Volunteers did not include this deduction on the inaccurately prepared tax returns because they did not completely review the Form 13614-C.  This deduction is available to eligible educators in public or private elementary or secondary schools.  To be eligible, a person must work at least 900 hours during a school year as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide.  Educators may subtract up to $250 of qualified expenses when figuring their adjusted gross income.  This deduction is available whether or not the taxpayer itemizes deductions on Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Schedule A, Itemized Deductions

·       The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit:  62 percent accuracy rate.  Volunteers did not include this deduction on the inaccurately prepared tax returns because they did not completely review the Form 13614-C.  Eligible taxpayers can claim this credit if they meet specific income qualifications and made a contribution to a qualified IRA, 401(k), or certain other retirement plans.  The credit is worth up to $1,000 ($2,000 if filing jointly).  The credit is a percentage of the qualifying contribution amount, with the highest rate for taxpayers with the least income. 

Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers did not always follow interview and quality review requirements  

Each taxpayer using the services offered through the Volunteer Program should be confident that they are receiving accurate tax return preparation and quality service.  To establish this confidence and trust, volunteers are required to complete and sign the Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement – VITA/TCE Programs, and maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct while providing quality service.[11]  The first standard of conduct is that the volunteer must follow the Quality Site Requirements.  Quality Site Requirements include mandatory requirements of an effective interview with the taxpayer and a quality review of the return.  However, volunteers did not always comply with these requirements, which resulted in inaccurately prepared tax returns. 

Intake and interview guidelines were not always followed.

For all 39 (100 percent) tax returns prepared, a Form 13614-C was prepared as required.  However, for 15 (38 percent) of the tax returns, volunteers did not thoroughly review the Forms 13614-C or fully use the form to prepare the tax returns.  Of the 15 tax returns prepared by these volunteers, 12 (80 percent) were prepared inaccurately. 

In addition, for the 39 sites visited:

·       25 (64 percent) volunteers did not explain to the auditor that they were ultimately responsible for the tax return.

·       Seven (18 percent) tax returns were not quality reviewed.

·       One (3 percent) volunteer did not verify the auditor’s identity.

Form 13614-C Sections A and B guide the volunteer through the interview with the taxpayer and allow the volunteer and taxpayer to gather all necessary information needed to complete an accurate tax return.  The intake and interview process must include all of the following:

Quality review guidelines were not always followed.

For each of the 19 tax returns prepared incorrectly, one or more of the quality review requirements were not followed.  For example:

For every tax return prepared, volunteers are required to ensure that the tax return is quality reviewed.  Quality reviewers use Form 13614-C, Section C, to confirm that the tax return is free from error based on the taxpayer interview, supporting documentation, and completed Form 13614-C.  Figure 5 presents a summary of the Volunteer Program quality review process requirements.

Figure 5:  Volunteer Program Quality Review Requirements

A quality review process at each site must be used to confirm that the tax law was correctly applied and that the tax return is free from error and has been prepared correctly based on all available information.  A quality review process at each site must contain the following critical components for an effective and thorough quality review of the tax return:

1.      The taxpayer should participate in the quality review process to solicit their understanding and agreement to the facts of the tax return.

2.      The quality reviewer is required to use Form 13614-C, Section C, during the review.

3.     The quality reviewer is required to use the available source documents to confirm identity, income, expenses, credits, and deposit/debit information on the tax return.

4.     If applicable, the quality reviewer may have to refer to Publication 4012, VITA/TCE Volunteer Resource Guide, and/or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax (For Individuals).

Source:  VITA and TCE Quality Site Requirements – Updates for 2013.

Partner organizations and their volunteers play a significant role in the program.  For this reason, the IRS has taken numerous actions and committed significant resources to developing processes intended to increase the accuracy of tax returns prepared by volunteers.  For example, the SPEC function issued eight Volunteer Tax and Quality Site Requirement alerts throughout the 2013 Filing Season, including the following alert on March 1, 2013:

Quality Site Requirements Alert 2013-03Intake/Interview and Quality Review Process – All volunteer return preparers supporting the VITA and TCE programs must use Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet (Form 13614-C) for every taxpayer.  The purpose of an Intake/Interview process is to use the completed intake sheet to initiate a conversation between the volunteer and taxpayer that ultimately leads to an accurately prepared tax return.

In addition, the IRS created a training document with detailed guidance on the IRS’s intake/interview and quality review processes.  However, the IRS encourages but does not require volunteer return preparers and quality reviewers to complete this training, nor does the IRS require site coordinators to complete training on the intake/interview and quality review guidelines.  Considering the number of volunteers and quality reviewers who did not follow the IRS guidelines and that most of the errors would not have been made or would have been detected had the guidelines been followed, site coordinators should be required to complete training on these processes.  Site coordinators are responsible for overseeing the volunteers’ work and should have a full understanding of the requirements to ensure that volunteers preparing tax returns and performing quality reviews follow the guidelines.

The IRS continues to refine its anonymous shopping process to assess the accuracy of tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites 

The IRS’s SPEC function continues to refine its anonymous shopping process to evaluate the accuracy of tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites.  For example, the SPEC function issues guidance and VITA publications to support the anonymous shopping process, including:

·       Pertinent information necessary to conduct a successful site review.

·       Details to ensure tax law accuracy and gauge taxpayer experience.

·       Quality Site Requirements.

The anonymous shopping process consists of IRS employees posing as taxpayers with predefined scenarios to have their Federal tax returns prepared.  The accuracy rate reported by this process for the 43 sites visited during the 2013 Filing Season was 49 percent for the 43 tax returns prepared.  This accuracy rate compares with the 51 percent accuracy rate we found.  In addition, the SPEC function’s anonymous shopping found the same causes that we identified for the inaccurately prepared tax returns.

Recommendation

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

Recommendation 1:  Ensure that all volunteer return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators complete intake/interview and quality review training annually.

Management’s Response:  The IRS agreed with this recommendation.  IRS management will require that all volunteer instructors, return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators complete intake/interview and quality review training annually.

 

Appendix I

 

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

 

Our overall objective was to determine whether taxpayers visiting Volunteer Program sites receive quality service, including accurately prepared tax returns.  To accomplish our objective, we:

I.                 Determined if the Volunteer Program sites were accurately preparing individual income tax returns based on facts provided by the taxpayers.  From a population of 13,081 sites, we selected a judgmental sample[12] of 39 VITA and TCE/AARP sites nationwide and attempted to have a tax return prepared.  Due to audit resources, three sites were selected in five States, six sites were selected in three States, four sites were selected in one State, and two sites were selected in one State.

Site selection was based on audit resources, proximity of sites to major cities, and geographical location of the auditors.  In addition, to expand testing to include sites never tested, we also eliminated most cities and sites selected in prior audits.  We could not select a statistical sample due to the volume of sites and geographical location of the sites that would need to be selected.  Finally, we did not advise the IRS beforehand of which sites were included in the testing.

II.               Determined the characteristics of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites.  We assessed the reliability of the data by comparing 10 return transactions from the Individual Return Transaction File data to the Integrated Data Retrieval System[13] and determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for purposes of this report.

III.             Determined if the IRS’s anonymous site visit procedures are adequate to test tax law accuracy and sufficient to gauge taxpayer experience.

IV.            Followed up on the IRS’s corrective actions to the 2012 Filing Season report’s recommendation to ensure that the IRS established guidelines for recommended due diligence for volunteers when preparing tax returns.

Internal controls methodology

Internal controls relate to management’s plans, methods, and procedures used to meet their mission, goals, and objectives.  Internal controls include the processes and procedures for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling program operations.  They include the systems for measuring, reporting, and monitoring program performance.  We determined the following internal controls were relevant to our audit objective:  the SPEC function’s policies, procedures, and practices for preparing tax returns.  We evaluated controls by interviewing management and reviewing policies and procedures.  We also conducted tests at Volunteer Program sites.

 

Appendix II

 

Major Contributors to This Report

 

Russell P. Martin, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Returns Processing and Account Services)

W. Allen Gray, Director

Paula W. Johnson, Audit Manager

M. Jean Bell, Lead Auditor

Doug Barneck, Senior Auditor

Robert Howes, Senior Auditor

Dave Robben, Senior Auditor

Jerome Antoine, Auditor

Jeremy Berry, Auditor

Tracy Hernandez, Auditor

Nelva Usher, Auditor

Ed Carr, Program Analyst

Ismael Hernandez, Program Analyst

Blanche Lavender, Information Technology Specialist

 

Appendix III

 

Report Distribution List

 

Acting Commissioner

Office of the Commissioner – Attn:  Chief of Staff  C

Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support  OS

Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement  SE

Deputy Commissioner, Operations, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Deputy Commissioner, Support, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Director, Customer Assistance, Relationships, and Education, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAR

Director, Strategy and Finance, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

Senior Operations Advisor, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

Chief, Program Evaluation and Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PEI Director, Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAR:SPEC

Chief Counsel  CC

National Taxpayer Advocate  TA

Director, Office of Legislative Affairs  CL:LA

Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis  RAS:O

Office of Internal Control  OS:CFO:CPIC:IC

Audit Liaisons:  Chief, Program Evaluation and Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PEI

 

Appendix IV

 

Cities and States Visited
to Have Tax Returns Prepared

 

Arizona

 

Tucson

Florida

 

Orlando

Georgia

 

Atlanta, Snellville, Lithonia

Kentucky

 

Covington, Lexington, Newport, Erlanger, Cynthiana

Massachusetts

 

Brighton, Brookline, Dorchester

Ohio

 

Cincinnati, Dayton, Fairfield, Beavercreek, West Milton, Hamilton

Oklahoma

 

Oklahoma City, Midwest City

Pennsylvania

 

Philadelphia

Texas

 

Dallas, Georgetown, Round Rock, Frisco

Washington

 

Seattle

 

Appendix V

 

Accuracy Rate by Tax Topic

 

Tax Topic

Number of
Tax Returns
Using Tax Topic

Percentage Correct

Additional Child Tax Credit

13

92%

Child and Dependent Care Credit

13

85%

Child Tax Credit

13

92%

Earned Income Tax Credit

13

85%

Educator Expense

13

54%

Estimated Tax Penalty

13

85%

Exemptions

39

92%

Filing Status

39

95%

Gambling Winnings

13

92%

IRA Deduction

13

46%

Interest

26

100%

Retirement Savings Contribution Credit

26

62%

Schedule C Expenses

13

69%

Schedule C Income

13

92%

Standard Deduction

39

97%

Wage Income

39

100%

Source:  Analysis of tax returns prepared for auditors during the 2013 Filing Season.

 

Appendix VI

 

Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet

 

The Sheet was removed due to its size.  To see the Sheet, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

 

 

Appendix VII

 

Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement – VITA/TCE Programs

 

The Form was removed due to its size.  To see the Form, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

 

 

Appendix VIII

 

General Characteristics of Tax Returns
Prepared by the Volunteer Program [14]
During Calendar Year 2013

 

Type of Tax Return

Tax Return Volume

Percentage
of Total

U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040)

2,773,132

95.50%

U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040A)

69,290

2.39%

Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With
No Dependents (Form 1040EZ)

51,745

1.78%

U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens With No Dependents (Form 1040NR-EZ)

6,374

0.22%

U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (PC) (Form 1040PC)

2,763

0.10%

U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return (Form 1040NR)

286

0.01%

U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return – Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa (Form 1040-SS)

233

0.01%

U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return – Puerto Rico
(Form 1040-PR)

***1***

***1***

 

Refund Due/
Balance Due

Dollar
Totals

Tax Return Volume

Percentage of Tax
Return Volume

 

Refund Due

$3,930,063,154

2,430,493

83.70%

Balance Due

$137,042,003

192,772

6.64%

Breakeven

$0

280,560

9.66%

 

Filing Status/Dependent Claims

Tax Return Volume

Percentage
of Total

 

Single

1,731,355

59.62%

Married Filing Jointly

758,519

26.12%

Head of Household

369,380

12.72%

Married Filing Separately and Spouse Is Required
to File

43,072

1.48%

Widow(er) With Dependent Child

1,433

0.05%

Married Filing Separately and Spouse Is Not
Required to File

66

<0.01%

Tax Return Prepared With One or More Dependent Exemptions, Including Parents

640,353

22.05%

Tax Return Prepared With No Dependent Exemptions

2,263,472

77.95%

 

Credits Claimed

Tax Return Volume

Dollar
Totals

Earned Income Tax*

698,383

$1,106,534,596

Child Tax*

225,776

$224,420,861

Additional Child Tax*

308,676

$358,946,402

Retirement Savings Contributions*

195,416

$33,887,567

Education

112,415

$83,915,454

Child and Dependent Care*

46,910

$22,829,924

Other (Adoption, Gas, and Health Coverage)

5,378

$7,801,530

* = This credit was included in our test scenarios.

Income

Tax Return Volume

Dollar Amounts

 

Average Income[15]

2,888,493

$23,111

 

Average Other Income[16]

132,400

$2,691

Source:  Our analysis of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites as of April 17, 2013.

 

Appendix IX

 

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Audit Reports on the Volunteer Tax Return
Preparation Program

 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2004-40-154, Improvements Are Needed to Ensure Tax Returns Are Prepared Correctly at Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites (Aug. 2004). 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2006-40-004, Significant Improvements Have Been Made in the Oversight of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, but Continued Effort Is Needed to Ensure the Accuracy of Services Provided (Nov. 2005). 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2006-40-125, Oversight and Accuracy of Tax Returns Continue to Be Problems for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (Aug. 2006). 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2007-40-137, Accuracy of Volunteer Tax Returns Is Improving, but Procedures Are Often Not Followed (Aug. 2007).

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2008-40-177, Accuracy of Volunteer Tax Returns Continues to Improve, but Better Controls Are Needed to Ensure Consistent Application of Procedures and Processes (Sept. 2008).  

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2009-40-128, Ensuring the Quality Assurance Processes Are Consistently Followed Remains a Significant Challenge for the Volunteer Program (Sept. 2009). 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2010‑40‑109, Improvements to the Volunteer Program Are Producing Positive Results, but Further Improvements Are Needed to the Quality Assurance Process (Sept. 2010). 

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2011‑40‑094, Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program (Aug. 2011).

TIGTA, Ref. No. 2012‑40‑088, Ensuring the Quality Review Process Is Consistently Followed Remains a Problem for the Volunteer Program (Jul. 2012).

 

Appendix X

 

Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

ATLANTA, GA 30308

 

COMMISSIONER

WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

 

August 27, 2013

 

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR MICHAEL E. MCKENNEY

    ACTING DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AUDIT

 

FROM:                            Peggy Bogadi /s/ Peggy Bogadi

                                        Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division

 

SUBJECT:                       Draft Audit Report - Inconsistent Adherence to Quality Requirements Continues to Affect the Accuracy of Some Tax Returns Prepared at Volunteer Sites (Audit# 201340001)

 

We appreciate the opportunity to review the subject draft report and its acknowledgement of the important role the Volunteer Program plays in providing Federal tax return preparation services to underserved segments of the population.  This service could not be provided without the tremendous support of our volunteers and partner organizations.  The program promotes voluntary compliance by providing tax return preparation and electronic filing services at no cost to those individuals most in need.  During the 2013 Filing Season, over 91,000 volunteers assisted more than 3.3 million individuals with the preparation and filing of Federal and State income tax returns.  By leveraging the relationships we have built and fostered with our more than 4,000 partner organizations, services were provided to low-to moderate-income, elderly, disabled, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers to help them comply with their filing obligations.  This level of service would be cost prohibitive without the efforts of our partnering organizations and volunteers.

 

Recognizing the importance of achieving and maintaining high standards of accuracy within the program, we have continued to take actions and devote resources to improving the accuracy rates of prepared tax returns.  A training document was created for the use of volunteers that provided guidance on and emphasized the use of the IRS's intake/interview and quality review processesVolunteers are required to use Form 13614-C, Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet, for each taxpayer assisted.  The purpose of the form is to ensure complete and accurate information is secured prior to the preparation of tax returns.  Partners are required to perform a 100 percent review of each return at volunteer locations to ensure returns are accurately prepared.  We also issued Volunteer Tax and Quality Site Requirement alerts throughout the 2013 Filing Season to communicate issues affecting return preparation quality.

 

As we discussed during your audit, the IRS uses a statistical sampling method to independently assess levels of service and accuracy rates of returns prepared by volunteers.  The results of these reviews are projected to the entire population of tax returns prepared at volunteer program sites.  For 2013, the accuracy rate of returns prepared by volunteers was 91 percent.  We attribute the 91 percent accuracy rate to volunteers who follow the intake, interview and quality review process completely on a consistent basis.  In addition, IRS personnel perform field site visits and anonymous shopping reviews to assist partners in providing quality site operations and to gauge the taxpayer's true experience.  We concur with the findings of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's (TIGTA) anonymous visits; however, we believe the reported accuracy rate is understated.  As TIGTA stated in its report, the accuracy rate should not be projected to the entire population of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites because the results were derived from a judgmental sampleFurther, two of the top three errors that significantly affected TIGTA's accuracy rate are typically encountered in only one percent of the returns prepared at volunteer sites.

 

Attached are our comments to your recommendations.  If you have any questions, please contact me, or a member of your staff may contact Verlinda Paul, Director, Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication, Wage and Investment Division, at (404) 338-7112.

 

Attachment

 

Attachment

 

Recommendations

 

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

 

Recommendation

Ensure that all volunteer return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators complete intake/interview and quality review training annually.

 

CORRECTIVE ACTION

We will require that all volunteer instructors, return preparers, quality reviewers, and site coordinators complete intake/interview and quality review training annually.

 

IMPLEMENTATION DATE

January 15, 2014

 

RESPONSIBLE OFFICIAL

Director, Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication, Wage and Investment Division

 

CORRECTIVE ACTION MONITORING PLAN

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.



[1] Pub. L. No. 91-172, 83 Stat. 487 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 26 U.S.C. and 42 U.S.C.).

[2] Pub. L. No. 95-600, 92 Stat. 2810.

[3] A sponsor would be an entity similar to the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons).

[4] A 12-consecutive-month period ending on the last day of any month.  The Federal Government’s fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.

[5] The period from January through mid-April when most individual income tax returns are filed.

[6] The Individual Return Transaction File contains individual tax return data.

[7] See Appendix VIII for tables showing the general characteristics of tax returns prepared by the Volunteer Program.

[8] See Appendix IX for a list of all prior reports.

[9] See Appendix VI for a copy of the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet.

[10] A judgmental sample is a nonstatistical sample, the results of which cannot be used to project to the population.

[11] See Appendix VII for the Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement – VITA/TCE Programs.

[12] A judgmental sample is a nonstatistical sample, the results of which cannot be used to project to the population.

[13] IRS computer system capable of retrieving or updating stored information.  It works in conjunction with a taxpayer’s account records.

[14] The IRS Volunteer Program includes the VITA, VITA Grant, and TCE Programs.

[15] Average Income was determined using computer software to calculate the average total income of all taxpayers.

[16] Other Income is a line item on Form 1040 series tax returns that is not reported on any tax schedules.